Trigger warning: discussion of suicide, depression
Graeme was a gentle, but ubiquitous, force in Scotland’s development community.
For a long time, I didn’t really know him very well. I knew of him, of course, and our circles overlapped so much that I really should have known him better. He was a key Ruby developer at FreeAgent at the same time as I was co-founding Float, which integrated directly with FreeAgent. He started ScotRUG and the Scottish Ruby Conference, both of which I’ve spoken at. A lot of my friends in the industry, were friends with him.
And yet, somehow, for a long time I didn’t really know him. I think I was simply daunted by him. Clearly smart, experienced and influential, but quiet. What time would he have for a newbie like me? Did he even recognise me this time? Do I have anything interesting to add to his life?
As a rubyist writing accounting software, Graeme was probably the best person to help me, and by all accounts he would have been beyond happy to do so. But my fear of rejection; my belief that he had plenty of friends, and wouldn’t really be interested in chatting to me; kept him at a distance.
Over time, we did interact, mostly via twitter, and at the odd ScotRUG meetup. But in my head, I was still an acquaintance of his, in a sea of closer friends.
Over time, I became somewhat aware of his struggles. We sat next to each other in a coworking space, but he wasn’t there very often, just an empty desk of stuff.
And then I helped his wife move his stuff out to her car.
Graeme was in hospital.
Not long after that I saw this tweet from Graeme in my timeline.
This morning’s art class turned into a mind map of “depression: a personal perspective”: pic.twitter.com/DUuFNUQEbs— Graeme Mathieson (@mathie) February 6, 2014
One phrase stood out: “no friends”.
This was a phrase I was saying to my therapist almost every week at that time.
This was a phrase that I would never have applied to Graeme.
And so, I guess, our true friendship began.
When Graeme was in “hospital” (the nicest way I can describe any of the mental health wards I’ve visited), I brought him his aeropress and a fresh bag of coffee - we talked about coffee, and software, and depression.
When he was out, we met up for a coffee. We talked about the fact that I was going to be hosting my first family christmas that year. He taught me about brining turkey, and told me that Nigella Lawson’s Christmas recipes were the best, which genuinely helped make that Christmas dinner one of the best my family’s had.
He sent me a long detailed description of his depression, his alcoholism, his attempted suicide. Not in search of pity, but because he wanted to share, and to help other people. In the end, we decided it was just a little to much to share. But it showed me just how much he had to fight, just to survive, and gave me the strength to fight for myself, and for others.
Graeme’s death is a tragedy. There is some solace in knowing that he is finally free of his demons, but as someone with experience with depression, it’s foundation shaking - “he didn’t make it, will I make it?”, “who else is fighting?”.
Graeme may not have made it, but he sure as hell fought, and from that I take strength.
To end up in a drab and depressing mental health ward on more than one occasion, and to make your way out of there takes fight.
To be fighting so hard against your demons, and still find love and friendship and the joyful intrigue that Graeme seemed to constantly find in software takes so much strength.
To suffer, and still want to help others as you do, is an inspiration.
But the biggest lesson that I’ll take from Graeme comes from his proclamation of having “no friends”. Two words that I think about almost daily.
Two words that are a reminder that what our brains tell us about our self-worth, and how many friends we have, may ultimately not be true, and how hard some people have to fight to overcome that.
But also, two words that demonstrate how hard we must fight, especially as adults (and especially as men), to show our love, and to work for our friendships. Friendships don’t just happen, and friendships don’t just last - they must be fought for. As without that fight, we are all alone.
That is the greatest lesson Graeme taught me. I still can’t believe he’s gone, but I intend to fight harder for every friendship I have thanks to him.